The Word of Wisdom is about the law of consecration. Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know that.
I’m reading the Doctrine and Covenants during November and December for my personal scripture study, journaling my life and observations as I go, and when I read Section 89 I stopped abruptly at these words (emphasis added):
To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days …
Before last week, I thought it was talking about saving our bodies: what to eat, what not to eat, and how to enjoy great health. Now, reading the revelations in order and with quicker succession, I see patterns in the way the Church and its leaders were being built.
A short history of about 2 1/2 years and over 90 revelations
First they were commanded not to preach but to obtain his word, concentrating on the publication of the Book of Mormon. They were trained in their discipleship and the ability to focus on their stewardships and the gifts each was given to accomplish his (or in Emma’s case in Section 25, her) stewardships. They were chastened for their shortcomings and their repeated tendency to work in each other’s stewardships, and taught about the atonement. They were then sent out to preach and to organize branches.
In very quick succession they moved from New York to Ohio and then (some) to Missouri. Not only were they moving whole communities, but they were to live a law of consecration, giving their properties over to an agent and with them all their excess monies, to be deeded back that which they needed. This caused some difficulties for some of the saints, both in Ohio and Missouri.
The Olive Leaf: Gifts, Glories, Consecration, and Unity
The revelation prior to the Word of Wisdom Joseph tenderly called the “olive leaf … plucked from the tree of paradise.” Section 88, received in December of 1832, followed scathing, accusatory letters sent by Sidney Gilbert (a gifted and consecrated shopkeeper) and William Phelps (a gifted and consecrated printer) denouncing Joseph. He was dealing with many tensions that winter, swimming in that deep water that he later said had long been his lot. The opening strains of this revelation poured oil into his wounds, promising him eternal life, and providing many comforting acknowledgements of his efforts.
The Lord then went on to talk about being quickened by a portion of a celestial glory, that portion that we are willing to receive, and the relationship between the giver and receiver when those glories are or are not received. There are differing glories by which we may be quickened – celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or none – and that portion that enlightens us is determined by our willingness to receive the gift. Some of our most poetic pronouncements about the willingness of God to endow his saints with wisdom and great gifts of knowledge come from this revelation. Some of his most important guidance, for these saints and for us, comes in this revelation.
- How were they to find peace living together under this law of consecration?
- What are the purposes of Zion, which the law is intended to prepare the saints to live?
- How does their Zion fit into the larger plans of the Almighty, with trumps sounding and angels marching and saints returning?
These questions and hundreds more are answered in this olive leaf life preserver sent to a prophet swimming in deep water.
Health of the Body, a Word of Wisdom
And then, they had a smoky, filthy room for the school of the prophets. Emma complained. The prophet thought. And like his trip a decade earlier into a grove of trees, he received more knowledge than he originally requested, but for which it would appear he was adequately prepared and willing to receive: a gift of a widening view of the plan of salvation.
A pattern for the temporal salvation of saints in the last days
1. It is sent greeting, not by commandment or constraint. Saints who are willing to receive a celestial order are not commanded in all things. When words of wisdom come to them, to the degree that they are willing to embrace those words, they receive the glory that comes along with them. The hidden treasures of the law of consecration were not in the obvious details, like how much land they contributed or what their contribution financed. The great treasures were to be obtained by voluntarily contributing with a spirit of oneness for the good of their brethren and Zion, a full-hearted response to a greeting from the Lord. Such is how gifts and glories are offered.
2. It is given for a principle with a promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and weakest. We grow from grace to grace, from understanding to understanding, building faith until it is purified in knowledge. With each level of faith we exert, glory comes to us and we are quickened, increasing our capacity to take further leaps of faith. Each level of discipleship we embrace carries with it promises, and the community of the saints must have room for everyone to experiment at their level while maintaining unity. Mercy is built into this system inherently, and meekness, as the saints consider each other with forgiveness and tolerance. Such is how gifts and glories grow.
3. Evils and designs do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, therefore God warns. To preserve his saints, the Lord provides guidance, which if followed with trust will protect the saints. God pairs strengthening us within (adapting his guidance to each of us) with protection from threats without – if we listen and act in trust. The law of consecration is given to help us achieve Zion, which is a perfection of unity, so that we can abide paradise and the presence of God. When Zion has been achieved, it has been a refuge from Babylon, but the Lord has also interceded to protect his saints from Babylon, by removing them physically from the earth if necessary. Such is how gifts and glories are protected.
4. The Lord spells out how precisely He has prepared the earth to nourish his children. Some substances are not good for us to consume. Some are, especially when used mindfully, with thanksgiving. Some are to be used sparingly under limited conditions, but we are left to make that determination ourselves, knowing his will for the benefit of those creatures. We are instructed how to care for creatures, how to nourish them as we live in peace with them, both domestic and wild animals considered. Ringing underneath this revelation we hear the stewardship given to Adam to tend and cultivate this garden, not to consume upon our lusts but to rejuvenate it and use it mindfully, consuming only as we need, balancing our consumption with all other creatures. Can you now feel even more profoundly the echoes of consecration, of Zion and paradise? Such is how gifts and glories are perfected.
5. All saints who remember to keep and do these things receive these promises, glories, and gifts. They will receive health in their navels (digestion and production of energy), marrow in their bones (strength to renew their lifeblood while mortal), wisdom and great treasures of knowledge (quickening by greater glories), and shall run and not be weary (have added stamina to complete their stewardships), and walk and not faint (be protected from discouragement and apostasy). The destroying angel shall pass by them as the children of Israel and not slay them (they will be temporally and spiritually saved from the destructions that will come to Babylon in the latter-day version of Egypt’s parallel to the Second Coming.) Such is how gifts and glories are consecrated.
There’s an entire post (and a lot of pages in my journal) about those last four verses.
What do these two sections together mean?
The short version is that if the saints will remember to keep and live the law of consecration, and other greetings and opportunities to increase their discipleship as sent by the Lord, they will have all that they need and more than they could imagine. If they will embrace living together as one, with a spiritual focus on the body of the saints instead of themselves as individuals, they will be blessed with all that they need to consume, their order will be self-renewing, they will grow in glory, and they will triumph over Egypt/Babylon by being spared through their obedience.
The pattern for temporal salvation.
By giving up consuming all that Babylon offers (those things we could consume but should not) and turning to God to mindfully consume all that He has abundantly provided, they will be hand-selected out of the world, as is promised by the Lord at his Second Coming. Sure, the Word of Wisdom is a law of physical health, but it is oh, so much more.
And why a body of saints? Why develop this metaphor of physical health in the midst of revelation upon revelation about consecration?
The body perfectly describes Zion. Each part of our body functions with a stewardship, and each is gifted with the capacity to fulfill that stewardship. The eye notices food. The brain determines its value. The hand procures it. The mouth consumes it. The stomach begins breaking it down, digesting those elements that it is tasked with digesting, and no others. The liver produces bile to digest only those fats and proteins it is tasked with emulsifying. The small intestine absorbs some substances, the large intestine absorbs others. The blood circulates food to cells. The muscles of all their many different types and functions do their duty. The bones provide structure. The marrow regenerates new blood. The kidneys clean. The bladder collects.
The specificity of enzymes and hormones and cascading reactions is so precise it boggles the mind. The multiplicity of stewardships within the body is truly divine. When the system is working, it is because all of these stewardships are 1) functioning in unity, and 2) functioning according to their gifts. Heart cells cannot do the work of digestion, but they can ensure that the heart beats without stopping even once 2.5 billion times in a lifetime. They were designed that way. They were endowed with the gift to beat without stopping, to know how to, to have the capacity to. And the entire body is dependent on the ability of the heart cells to do just that.
The body of the saints is made healthy by the implementation of spiritual gifts: God-given abilities and capacities designed to fit us for stewardships with one another. As we learn to live in love and peace, we will enjoy health and capacities as a body that will far outstrip our indulgent neighbors in Babylon. The glories that will come to us as a body will fit us for Zion, and for paradise, and for the companionship of Enoch, and for the presence of God, in a glorious succession of glories we are willing to receive because we acted on words of wisdom offered but not commanded.
If only the gifted and consecrated Sidney Gilbert and William Phelps had known! They had their part, a tender mercy from the Lord, which made them indispensable in the building of the kingdom, and they had been called to share it. The spirit of apostasy that swept through the saints was founded in two entwined principles: their inability to magnify their gifts in their own stewardships, and their inability to work together as a body bound for Zion.
In our own day we don’t talk much about consecration, and we often see our gifts as bringing joy to ourselves and our families, which they do. The length and depth of our identity as a body of saints is often limited to our callings and regular attendance in church. Like the Word of Wisdom as now usually interpreted, it’s all personal.
But what if there is more?
What if you were given a gift specifically designed to build the kingdom? What if your function is perfectly appropriate, like an immune cell that is created to target a single strain of bacteria, and you are so busy running kids to soccer or earning a living that you miss your chance to be part of the body, to fulfill your God-given function? How do you find out what your stewardship is, and the gift that you were given, to assure that you will accomplish it?
The pattern, as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants in more than 90 revelations preceding these important two, involves going to the Lord to ask about gifts and stewardships. It involves inviting and receiving divine guidance, growing accustomed to the voice and developing the relationship with God that allows us to ask where we fit. It involves seeing ourselves as part of something much larger than our busy day-to-day lives allow us to consider. It involves acting when we are commanded, and acting when we are offered opportunities to press forward without commandment.
There is a pattern for our temporal salvation, and the temporal salvation of all of us as we depend on each other:
- It is sent greeting, not by commandment or constraint. (Would you like to know your gift? Ask.)
- It is given for a principle with a promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and weakest. (Don’t stress; you have time to grow.)
- Evils and designs do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days. (There will be distractions.)
- The Lord spells out how precisely He has prepared the earth to nourish. (You will have what you need, everything you need!)
- All saints who remember to keep and do these things receive these promises, glories, and gifts. (Phenomenal cosmic power, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, living your life with purpose and direction, to be caught up to God as was Enoch.)
The writers at Real Intent, in celebration of the birth of our Savior, have prepared twelve essays on spiritual gifts. In the spirit of consecration to our Lord and to each other we offer these thoughts to you. This season, do more than give great gifts. Receive Glory.
Be One Body. Be Healthy. Be Zion.
Cross-posted at Real Intent.